Sunday, March 15, 2009

Paul Seely on Hugh Ross

In the ASA's journal Prospectives on the Christian Faith, volume 59, issue 1, Paul Seely addresses the corcordism of Hugh Ross. Ross' book Fingerprint of God was one of the first books that I read when I began to develop an interest in the science/creation question. The book is as much a demolition of young earth astrophysics models as anything but he also outlines Ross' ID position that the universe looks "tweaked." Too tweaked, in fact to have arisen by chance. Ross argues that, properly interpreted, The Bible "concords" with modern science. His is a distinctly non-evolutionary, progressive creation, old earth position.

In this article Concordism and a Biblical Alternative: An Examination of Hugh Ross’s Perspective, Paul Seely takes on this perspective. He points out the same thing that Carol Hill did, that when taken literally, the first verses of Genesis 1, which describe the creation of the universe, are out of order when viewed from a scientific perspective. He then addresses Adam:
Ross recognizes that in the Bible Adam is the first human being on earth; and unlike some concordists he does not attempt to establish a pre-Adamite theory. He admits that hominids go back over a million years and that Neanderthals existed in their usual time slot, but he argues that the Neanderthals were not true human beings nor ancestors ofAdam.
This view is problematic, since the evidence of Neandertals being separate species is equivocal. Ross argues that there is evidence of funerary and ritual behavior going back only 24 ky BP, a perspective that Randall White would certainly disagree with. Seely counters with this:
One problem with this is that since 1986, other altars have been found, two of which were made by Neanderthals. One was found at Bruniquel, France, which dates back at east 47,600 years.4 Similarly there is good evidence of Neanderthals sacrificing a deer in a Mousterian cave shelter in Lebanon.5 If altars signify the presence of truly spiritual beings, Neanderthals would have to be considered true human beings whether they are ancestral to Homo sapiens sapiens or not.
Concordance faces more serious problems in the dating of Adam. Here is where the "Adam is not literal" thoughts raise their ugly head in my brain. Humans created one or another stone tool technologies throughout their existence from the late Oldowan at 1.5 mya to the end of the Upper Palaeolithic around 15 kya. There were no iron tools or bronze workings of any kind before around 8-10 kya. Modern humans, on the other hand, make their appearance around 140-160 kya in North Africa—not the Near East (where they show up around 100 ky bp) and certainly not in Mesopotamia.

As far as the flood is concerned, he tasks Ross' acceptance of a local flood in which the ark came to rest in the low highlands of Urartu, a few hundred feet above sea level. He writes:
The meaning of Gen. 7:19, however, is quite different if it is left in context. The preceding verses paint a picture of the flood waters ever increasing in depth until they covered “all of the high mountains under all the heavens.” The phrase “under all the heavens” necessarily includes the country of Ararat since that country is part of the context (Gen. 8:4).11 And, the phrase, “all the high mountains” includes the high mountains of Ararat, not just the foothills. Hence, Gen. 7:19 means that the high mountains of Ararat were covered by the flood waters. On average, these mountains are 8,000 feet high and encircle a plateau one mile high. Consequently, the narrator is describing the flood waters as being over one mile high.
This, of course, presents a problem for the concordist position because, unless you jettison a literal read of the text, you are stuck with a local flood that was, well, quite a bit more than local. Seely, after having dispensed with other issues of (dis)concordance with scripture writes something profoundly important:
I think it is evident that God can morally accommodate his message to the pre-ingrained cultural ideas of the people to whom he is speaking, even when that accommodation does not agree with the actual facts. In addition, there is another factor bearing upon this issue. Scripture was given to make humans wise with regard to salvation, not science (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
He follows this by writing:
We must not forget that the various revelations in the Old Testament did not come to a people whose minds were a tabula rasa. Rather, they came to a people who had cultural ideas which were deeply ingrained before God’s revelation in the Old Testament ever came to them. These pre-ingrained cultural ideas invited and even sometimes demanded adaptations, which, like a missionary’s translation, may depart from strict adherence to the facts. In the case of Genesis 1–11, I have shown elsewhere that some of the content is certainly accommodated to the science of the times.
One of the things that Conrad Hyers notes in his writings is that if the text of the Primeval History is in sync with the science of the 21st century, then it is necessarily out of sync with the science of the 20th century, and 19th century, the 18th century and so on. Further, why would God write a scientific treatise to people who were trying to figure out where they were going and who they were? The Genesis creation story, followed by the flood and Tower of Babel stories simply unified the Hebrew people. The stories were necessarily similar to those of the Mesopotamian stories because that was their common heritage. Whether these stories were written down during the Exodus or appeared later in time during the exile is almost irrelevant. The Hebrews had the stories they needed at the time that they needed them and could feel unified in their worship of God.

The above exposition puts in much sharper focus how peculiar the literal reading of the young earth creation position really is. It is not enough that the science behind their writings does not accord with that of modern science. Even if there was evidence that the earth was created in the recent past, why would God not have composed truly new stories for his people? Why cloak them in the language and constructs of the surrounding peoples? The lack of historicity of the PH doesn't mean that God doesn't care about the credence of the Bible. It simply means he didn't intend it as a science lesson.


  1. Right now I am reading the book by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross entitled "Who Was Adam?" So far, I am unimpressed by how they use the Bible to create a "model for human origins." I just do not agree with using scripture in such a manner... it is not meant to communicate scientific information.

    Have you read "Who Was Adam?" I might put a review on my own blog when I am done with it.

  2. No, I haven't. I would be very curious to hear what you have to say about it. Please ring in when you are done. Thanks. The problem that Ross has had in the past is that human origins continues to outpace his idea that Adam had to have been the first modern human. That puts the creation of the first Adam somewhere between 160 and 120 thousand years ago, and not in the Middle East. They either showed up in North Africa or South Africa first, depending on what you call "modern."

  3. Here is where the "Adam is not literal" thoughts raise their ugly head in my brain.

    Why do you characterize the thoughts as ugly?

    The Genesis creation story, followed by the flood and Tower of Babel stories simply unified the Hebrew people.

    I'd say they did more than unify. The creation story systematically goes through the natural world as the Hebrews understood it and declares that each facet is not a god to be worshipped, but a material object created by the One God. It is, among other things, a polemic against polytheism.

  4. You see, this is why the story fits either as an Egyptian period piece or an exile piece. It had to combat the syncretism that was so prevalent in both places. It was truly unifying. The "Adam is not literal" thoughts are only ugly in the sense that they put me orthogonal to the vast majority of my fellow Christians.